The SEC has been discussing the possibility of changing over from their current eight-game conference schedule to a nine-game conference schedule recently. Whenever the SEC thinks about doing something, reporters inevitably turn to the current king of the conference, Nick Saban, who has led the Alabama Crimson Tide to three BCS National Championships in the last four years. While the debate goes back and forth, Saban sees the move to a nine-game conference slate as an inevitable consequence of expansion.
Speaking with reporters, Saban offered his thoughts on the conference schedule debate, highlighted by one particularly illuminating quote:
“If you increase the size of the league and the number of teams you have in the league then you’ve got to play more games.”
It’s a simple formula and the logic is sound. The SEC expanded to 14 teams in 2012 when they added the Texas A&M Aggies and Missouri Tigers from the Big 12. That swelled the divisions to seven teams a piece, meaning that each SEC team had at least six games set in stone as they played each team from their division. That left just two cross-over games available on the schedule in the old eight-game format with the other division, which could set up some wildly unbalanced strengths of schedules in conference play.
Just imagine in the SEC West that Alabama and the LSU Tigers were battling neck and neck for the division title and a slot in the SEC Championship. If Alabama had to play their cross-over games with the SEC East against the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators (a combined 14-2 in conference play in 2012) and LSU got the Tennessee Volunteers and Kentucky Wildcats (1-15 combined in 2012), the Tide would be at a major disadvantage from a scheduling standpoint.
Going to a nine-game conference schedule wouldn’t completely balance the schedules, but it would even things out a little bit more. Other conference like the Big 12 and Pac 12 have already adopted the nine-game format and the Big Ten will be moving to the same when they expand in 2014. The nine-game slate ensures that the conference champion has put together a more complete resume as the best team in the conference and minimizes the benefit of scheduling to a degree.
For now, the SEC continues to debate the merits of staying where it is or making the switch to a longer conference schedule. But if Saban has declared the nine-game format an inevitability, how long can the rest of the conference really hold out?